ICT at 10% of Global Electricity Consumption?

The Digital Power Group said in August 2013 that global ICT consumes ~1,500 TWh of electricity annually, ~10% of the world's annual generation. This is the much greater that the 2% number commonly cited six years ago when Vertatique was launched. How did we get from there to here? And, is 10% a credible number?

This is not the first time I have seen the 10% number. It was cited in the promotion for a 2009 green communications conference in Germany. I've asked the source of both these 10% numbers for detailed breakdowns. Let's take a look at what we already know until we hear back.

Core

The 2% number was just for data centers, then viewed as the largest consumers of ICT electricity. Data center consumption continues to grow, but, trailing global energy use, data center energy use is likely below 2%. Using 1.5%, this puts data center consumption at ~225 TWh/year today. Some predictions see the number dropping to ~140 TWh/year by 2020 as cloud computing drives more processing into energy-efficient mega data center.

The ICT Core is not just about data centers. It includes all e-gear intensive facilities in broadcast, research, medical and other sectors. Add those in and I am leaning toward the higher estimate.

Comm

The big change in thinking over the past six years is the "C" in ICT: voice and data, wired and wireless, broadcast, etc. Estimates vary.

Edge

We can't ignore the 19+ billion edge devices attached to our global ICT infrastructure. Some use relatively little power per unit (mobile phones) while some use much more (DTVs). Together, these billions of devices add up. There has been no comprehensive assessment of all this energy. We do have circumstantial evidence from which we can estimate its magnitude.

SWI/Vertatique Estimates of Annual Global ICT Electricity Consumption

Comms and Edge energy consumption is not as well studied as that for data centers. We do have an number of data points* that we have used to construct these estimates.

Low High Low High
Core 1.1% 1.5% 165 TWh 225 TWh
Comms 1.5% 3.4% 225 TWh 510 TWh
Edge 1.4% 3.5% 215 TWh 518 TWh
Total 4.0% 8.4% 605 TWh 1,253 Twh


Pending new input from the global ICT community (see statement at top left) or the "10%" sources referenced above, we feel comfortable using 8%.


* The data points we considered are in these posts:
The "C" in ICT is Driving Global Energy Consumption
Data Centers Not Largest Locus of ICT Energy or Emissions
Telecom Emissions: 300 MtCO2 and Growing